Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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17
RIBALOW / ARTISTRY OF GIORGIO BASSANI
sparkled agreeably on his brownish, smooth cheeks . . . ” He was
educated, a good speaker and intelligent. As the narrator proceeds
we are back with the people of the Finzi-Continis novel. Again,
he talks of his father: “Romantic, patriotic, politically ingenuous
and inexperienced like so many other Jews of his generation, my
father had joined the Fascist party when he returned from the
front in 1919. So he had been a Fascist from the very beginning
. . . But since Mussolini, after his early quarrels, had begun to
make friends with Hitler, he had grown anxious. He thought of
nothing but a possible outburst of anti-Semitism in Italy too . . .”
But as Dr. Fadigati takes on a lover, our storyteller becomes
more deeply aware of anti-Semitism. An anti-Jewish campaign
started in Italy, which was to bring the racial laws of 1938. “I re-
member those first days like a nightmare: my father going
brokenly out each morning in search of newspapers; my mother’s
eyes always swollen with tears . . . .” The narrator begins to sense
fear and terror, and a torment grows in his heart. But in visiting
the old Jewish cemetery he draws sustenance from the past: “The
future of persecution and massacre that might await us (since I
was a child I had continually heard of it as an eventuality that
was always possible for us Jews) no longer frightened me.”
Yet he remains aware of the poisoning of the air. He feels that
he would be driven back into a ghetto: “Heaped up behind the
gates like so many terrified beasts, we should never escape again.”
As he senses a growing alienation, so does Dr. Fadigati, who
advises him to accept himself as he is, as a Jew. The narrator asks,
“Accept what I am? Or rather: adapt myself to being what others
want me to be?” The homosexual replies gently, “I don’t see why
not,” but adds of his own situation, “My own case is different,
exactly the opposite of yours . . . . I simply can’t bear myself any
longer. I can’t go on. I must not.” In the end the doctor drowns
himself in the river. But the Jew continues to live, to survive.
The two remaining novels, like the more ambitious stories and
novels, cut deeply into the reader’s mind. In
The Heron,
Edgardo
Limentano (few of Bassani’s central characters have a name; as
though the search for identity goes on and on) is a member of a
Jewish family of Ferrara who, unlike some of the people in the
other books, has survived the oppression. He decides to go hunt-
ing and Bassani meticulously checks what Edgardo must do to
prepare for the hunt. He rises very early and dresses warmly; and